Tag Archives: Jayyus

Amazing people inspire Steve to spread the word

This article was was published in the Stroud News and Journal.

Human rights activist Steve Hynd has returned home to the Five Valleys after five months working in one of the most volatile, divided regions on the planet. The vital observations he made in the  West Bank helped inform major peace organisations desperate to bring stability to the landlocked territory, which has been fought over for decades between Israeli and Palestinian troops. Having met some extraordinary people on his travels, Steve is now keen to share his experiences of life in the strained region, where human rights abuses continue to shock the world.

“I LOVE Stroud – everything from its green valleys to its award winning ale. It has a buzz about it that combines a feeling of vibrancy with a relaxed tranquil atmosphere.

It was therefore quite a jump for me to go from a quiet life in the west country to accepting a position with a human rights monitoring scheme in the West Bank.

I have just returned from five months with the scheme, which was co-ordinated by the World Council of Churches.

Throughout my time I witnessed some terrible human rights abuses but I also met some inspiring people carving out lives for themselves in incredibly difficult situations.

For example, I met Mohammed in East Jerusalem who was evicted from his home aged just 14.  His neighbourhood, Sheikh Jarrah, is being targetted by Israeli settlers looking to establish a permenant Jewish presence there.

Today, Mohammad lives back with his family but is forced to live alongside the settlers in his house, which has been literally divided into two, with his family living in the back and the settlers  living in the front.

What struck me most about Mohammad’s story was the honesty with which he told it. He would be the first to admit that he reacted with deep anger towards all Israelis, feeling the rage and injustice of the situation in which he found himself.

This was until Israeli peace activists such as Tzvi Benninga started to come and help him, his family and his neighbourhood. This was the first time he had met an Israeli who was not a soldier or a settler. Every Friday, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals come together to protest in MohammadÕs neighbourhood.

One of my organisation’s roles was to go along to these protests to monitor proceedings. In the past it has been met with violence and tear gas and it would be our role to report that.

Mohammad is just one of a series of inspiring characters that I met whilst I was there. Now that I am back home I feel it is only right to try and tell the stories of a few of the people that I met.

As such I am hoping to do a series of talks around the area about my experiences.

If you would be interested in hosting a talk then please do not hesitate to contact me by emailing stevehynd24@gmail.com.

Whenever I asked anyone I met what they would want me to do to help their situation they nearly always responded in the same way – ‘go home and tell people what you have seen here’, they would say  – so this is what I am hoping to do.

1 Comment

Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East

The last 24 hours – an extract from my diary.

This is a short extract from my diary (with the naughty bits removed) covering the last 24 hours.

18:25 – I get a text message from one of our local contacts asking if I want to play football in the village with some of the other guys. It sounds like a laugh so I pull on my Arsenal shirt (staying neutral in the Barcelona/Real Madrid turf war) and head out. The two guys I meet are wearing jeans, jackets and leather shoes and I wonder whether my tracksuit trousers and football shirt looks a bit eager. This feeling is confounded when we stop and eat freshly made falafel (it’s hard to say no to Palestinian food). We arrive at the pitch (floodlights and all) and I start to get the feeling that something is not quite right.

18:45 – We spend over an hour warming up (I say we, the two guys who I arrive with are sat on the side – of course they are not playing, they’ve just eaten). This warm up is more exercise than I have done for a very long time. Apparently F.C Jayyus take their warm ups (and football in general) very seriously. I try to cover up my inherent lack of ability and my self-created lack of fitness by making jokes. The guys I came with laugh, everyone else looks on with growing concern at the amount of sweat dripping down this English boy’s face.

The coach barks instructions at players and I occasionally hear my name mentioned (that’s right, this village football team has a coach, and he barks). I try my best not to mess up but get the feeling that I am not the foreign super signing that F.C Jayyus had been looking out for.

21:00 – I survived it, just. One shoulder in the face, and only the occasional noticeable mistake and I think I survived my first (and possibly last) training session with F.C Jayyus. I walk off the pitch knowing full well that my legs will be stiff tomorrow but pretending that this sort of exercise is par for the course for me. It was great to meet some new faces in the village and to have a kick around with them – I wonder if that feeling is mutual? Either way, they are eager for me to come back to the coffee shop with them to watch Champions League football. I excuse myself, miming that I have to get up early tomorrow for checkpoint monitoring (I always thought the Jungle Book was hard but this take charades to a whole new level). I walk away from the group feeling proud that I have turned down the chance to watch football in favour of getting to bed on time – perhaps this whole experience is making me grow up.

23:30 – It’s pathetic and I know it. I have to be up in four and half hours but I could not resist watching Arsenal play (second leg trying to come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit against A.C Milan). Arsenal go 3-0 by half time and I am on cloud nine…and then…nothing. We (because when you support a club you are a part of the collective) crash out of the Champions League and any thought of silverware for the season goes out the window with it. To top it off, my home club, Cheltenham Town drop 3 crucial points in the race for League 2 promotion. I go to bed with my mind swarming with football. How can I love something that consistently causes me so much misery?

But anyway, if you’re looking to support Arsenal or Cheltenham Town I came across these useful coupons for Amazon. Take a look!

1:20 – I am awoken (2 hours after I went to sleep – not that I am bitter) with a phone call to say the IDF are in the village making an arrest (possible arrests – plural). After a quick assessment we decide it is too dangerous to be wandering the streets so we decide to monitor the situation from our rooftop staying in mobile contact with others around the village. It is an eerie feeling to see these silhouettes of men on roof tops in the early hours, all whispering reports to each other. It does however work as an informal information network.

2:30 – An hour later we receive confirmation that a local has been arrested. We can see IDF jeeps buzz around the outskirts of the village but only occasionally see them in the village. These late night visits (often not to make arrests) are happening far too often. I go back to bed, my mind now buzzing not with triviality of football, but of the guy who has just been bundled out of his house in the middle of the night – where will he end up, what will happen to him, what (if anything) will he be charged with?

4:55 – Alarms, I hate alarms. It does its job though and I am up to monitor the agricultural gate to the North of the village which open 5:30 – 6:30 every morning. I arrive and the IDF are parked with their headlights on full beam facing straight at where I monitor the gate from. I stand there, centre stage, performing the worst solo performance they are likely to ever see (essentially a tired Englishman staring blankly at them). After a while a small trickle of farmers flow past and I mutter a few good mornings. The Israelis have made a concerted effort to encourage farmers not to use this gate (as the road on the other side runs straight through a bit of land marked for settlement expansion) but still the locals use it. I wander back to the house feeling cold and tired.

08:45 – A Palestinian with an Israeli ID is coming to pick us up and to drive us to the other side of the separation barrier. We pass through the checkpoint and our bags are x-rayed and a sniffer dog sniffs every nook and cranny of the car. The young girl behind the desk has a staring competition with my passport photo (my photo wins every time) and I am asked why I visited Egypt (A: “I was on holiday”…my mind runs through potential comedy answers and I stop myself from laughing by making a sort of snorting noise). She looks at me and waves me through.

09:30 – We meet a local farmer and he walks us around his land showing the problems that they face (settlement expansion, military activity, water rationing etc). Inside a hut on his land we drink sweet tea and point at maps laid out in front of us. He shows us how the access to his land is being controlled (you need to have a permit to access your own farmland), restricted (they have built a massive separation barrier through the middle of his land – twice) and made unreliable (he had been waiting for months to get a permit). Worst of all, it can be taken away at any minute. We are shown his neighbours land which has been literally blown away – it is now a stone quarry providing material for massive ‘settler only’ road upgrading schemes. Areas all around his land have been claimed by the Israeli government as state property (using British mandate laws I should add – sigh…I love the BBC, tea and cake at 4pm and The Beatles but I sometimes struggle to find anything else to be patriotic about and being in Israel/oPT is not helping this).

We are joined during the day by a Dutch delegation who have decided to spend their free time working as unforced free labour on the land. For some this might seem an odd choice for a holiday but I think I ‘get it’. It is beautiful land they are working on and it is rewarding work. At the very least I ‘get it’ more than those fighting for sun beds in Magaluf.

17:00 – After a long day in the sun in the fields this is exactly what I don’t want. I am sat on a concrete bench in the seam zone (the area in between the separation barrier and the Green Line) waiting for a taxi driver who is over 1 hour late staring at the backend of a checkpoint I am not allowed to enter (it is for workers only). When the taxi does show up (with no explanation for the delay) I need to be driven in a huge loop around and through a car terminal. No one checks any of my nooks and crannies on the way back through.


I am currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the West Bank – follow the hyperlink for more information.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, Social comment

The missing pieces of Jayyus’ jigsaw

Children are running wild around my feet, unable to decide which is more exciting, the strange foreigner holding a digital camera, or the prospect of finally seeing Ashraf Khaled.

The atmosphere almost reaches fever pitch as rumours spread like wild fire of Ashraf’s imminent return. A car alarm goes off and people break out into a short lived hysteria. The occasional firework flies into the air, the explosion resonates through the narrow village streets and leaves the children delirious with anticipation. For the last week the village of Jayyus in the West Bank has been expecting Ashraf to return. On each anticipated release day, his family would drive to Jenin only to find out at the last minute that they would have to wait for another day or two.

For many of the young boys flittering around my feet they have no memory of Ashraf – many were still in their mothers arms when he was detained eight years previous.  Perhaps this only adds to the excitement – the prospect of the unknown.

The wait is stretched out with small snippets of information being fed to the growing crowd. Someone is sure that he has left the neighbouring village, another comments that he will be here any second. I have no idea what to expect but even I am starting to feel excited.

All of a sudden the suspense spills into carnival jubilance; a procession of cars start to pour into the village. Each car has Palestinian flags and jubilant young men hanging out of the windows, sunroofs and out of places you wouldn’t believe that it was possible to hang. One man leans out of the window holding a box of fireworks firing them into the air. Soon we are encircled with loud explosions as houses all around the village let off fireworks from their flat roofs. Car horns are on permanently, men are shouting trying to be heard over the car horns and feeble stereos try their best to compete. The children, for the first time since I came out onto the street, stand still and watch the spectacle in amazement. The street fills with firework smoke, music, explosions, laughter, and giddy men embracing.

As I stand in the middle of this all, breathing the fresh evening air, I watch a community come together in a public embrace to welcome home a missing piece of their jigsaw. I have long given up asking the reason why anyone is arrested (invariably it is either for ‘security’ or ‘stone throwing’) but on this occasion I venture down this delicate line of questioning. The answer comes back with a cynical sneer. I am told that his brother was killed and he was arrested as a precautionary measure in case his brother’s death ‘radicalised’ him.

In most modern democratic countries this story would be an impossibility or at least it would be considered to be unusual. Sadly, in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory we know that at least 308 people are currently being held in administrative detention[1]. This is a clear violation of International Human Rights standards. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly states that no person should be subject to , “arbitrary arrest or detention”.

Some men are arrested for genuine security concerns, some are arrested for stone throwing, many however are held without charge or trial.

As the parade of clapped out 1980 Subaru Leones file past for the third or fourth time, I start to look beyond the explosions and the loud music and catch the occasional eye wandering into the near distance. On this night one piece of this village’s jigsaw has been returned but many more remain scattered across Israel languishing in prisons. In the last few weeks at least three of the village’s young men have been detained including the Mayor’s son. Each one leaves a hole in the fabric of this close knit community.

It remains to be seen whether Ashraf will fit back into place here or whether his body and mind has been permanently bent out of shape. Tonight the community will welcome him back with a celebration that will go onto the early hours. Tomorrow the sun will rise and cast its light into the homes of all those who have relatives in one of Israel’s prisons. For as long as the occupation continues and Israel pursues its policy of arbitrary detention the jigsaw of villages like Jayyus will remain incomplete.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, War

A photo speaks a thousand words – Jayyus

A fellow EA monitors an agricultural gate outside of Jayyus.

Nature does not respect human divisions.

2 groups who feel connected to one piece of land.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Politics, Religion, Social comment, War